Inspired to Do More with Your Pet?

Purina Farms trainers John Casey and Tracy Custer spend their days working with their team of dogs — most of whom come from shelters — putting on shows for busloads of visitors who’ve come to see high-flying canines do things like dive 30 feet into a pool, catch a flying disc and land in a pool. With their expert advice - and wisdom - you can start breaking barriers with your own dog.

For John and Tracy and their families, Purina Farms is their life, you might even say their calling. But while this one-of-a-kind training facility is a great place to see ordinary dogs do extraordinary things, from John’s perspective “it’s really a place to explore the relationship people can have with their pets.”

John — who worked as a carpenter for 15 years until one fateful day when he took in a 6-month-old puppy— explains.  “My gift has never been training dogs. It’s always been my ability to bond with them, which anyone can do if you spend enough time with your pet.”

Work Your Dog's Noggin

Like humans, dogs need to be challenged as well. Puzzle feeder toys are especially great if your pet is home alone while you're at work. You might also try chew toys you can put food into so your dog or cat has to find a way to get the treat. As they get more advanced, you can even start hiding their breakfast in there.

John freely admits, “It’s not that these dogs are well-trained. It’s that I’m a well-trained human. They trained me.”

While John and Tracy make it look easy, they’re aware of just how daunting it can be for the average owner trying to get on the same page as their pet, whether it’s teaching them a new trick or simply getting them to not jump on every visitor who comes to the door. 

How to Get Started

Many believe that bonding with a pet is a mysterious art form best left to overpaid dog whisperers. The reality is more formulaic: Time + Goal + Conditioning = Happy Dog (and happy owner). 

The Purina® Pro Plan® P5 app provides step-by-step instruction, helpful video demonstrations, and insight from top Pro Plan® trainers. From basic commands to agility and tricks, this app is an ideal companion for you and your dog. Available for iOS and Android devices.

Put in The Time

“It’s crucial to make your dog an everyday part of your life,” says Tracy. “Go for walks diligently. If you can bring your dog to work, that’s ideal. But even if you’re just picking up the cleaning or going to your kid’s baseball game, bring the dog, just like you would any other family member. Being by your side, consistently, day in and day out, satisfies a lot of the bonding needs of your pet.”

John adds, “Take them with you — to the pet store, on hikes, on errands. Going out of town for a week? Take the dog with you.” John boasts of going on 12 years worth of family vacations with a pet in tow. Tracy advises, “Treat them like the family member they are.”

Release the Hound!

As Tracy likes to say, “a tired dog is a good dog.” Here are a few ways to get your dog’s heartbeat up and get some training/bonding time in all at once:

  • Interval training: Walk briskly for a few minutes then ease to a slower walk to recover. 
  • Obstacle course: Set up chairs, tables, or whatever you have around and have your dog run around them. This is also a good time to get your dog used to hearing his name when called. 
  • Hula hoop leaping: Find a hula hoop and encourage your dog to jump through by throwing a treat through the opening. 

Pick a Goal, Any Goal

According to Tracy, “Bar none, the fastest way for the two of you to bond is to start with a goal.” She goes on to say that it could be any goal. If you want your dog to be obedient, that’s your goal. You could teach him to play with a flying disc, do tricks, or just train him to cuddle up next to you on the couch.  Whenever you achieve a goal — high or low — if you do it together, you form an instant bond. She adds, “Simply completing an obedience class together would be a great bonding experience.”

“We set a goal and achieve it. We get to do that a lot, “ says Tracy. “But in the end, it’s your response that your dog responds to. If I do my best and don’t win, I’m still happy with my dog. If we win the competition, my response is overwhelming and my dogs can’t help but reciprocate.”

Have Fun Out There

Remember that accomplishing more with your dog shouldn't be all hard work - it should be fun.

Tracy sums it up this way. “Every time we go out and play, as long as we keep it fun, they respond. That’s the bond. We get so much more fulfillment from a dog that seems to be enjoying what they’re doing. That’s the ultimate goal. A dog that loves to do what he’s doing.”

John’s big-picture goal is very much the same. "We have the personal goals we set with ourselves and the ones we set with our dogs. But it’s everyone’s goal to have a healthy, happy dog. One that can’t wait to get you out of bed in the morning and do it all over again.”

If your dog seems happier,  you're probably on the right track!

Breaking barriers is something that all pet owners and pets are capable of.

While there can be some hoops to jump through (literally), a lot of it just comes down to spending more time with your best friend. Once you start setting goals and going after them together, you'll find your bond gets even deeper.